Friday, July 31, 2015

Truly, Finally, Totally

BooMan has a very good post on the current state of carnage that is today’s Republican Party and why someone like Donald Trump is leading in the polls.

What needs to be understood, first and foremost, is that we’re nearing the logical conclusion of a sequence of decisions that the right has made over the last several decades to delegitimize our core institutions. In this I include most obviously the political chattering class, but also the federal government (the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court), the Republican leadership, academia, and more recently even the scientific community. The result is that a huge swath of the right-leaning electorate can no longer be reached. The only messengers who still have credibility with these folks are the ones who are willing to call bullshit on the whole enchilada.

Keep a couple of important concepts in mind. First, the right hasn’t just been sold a bill of goods on things like voter fraud and Benghazi and Obamacare. They’ve also been promised a bunch of things that the Republican politicians either had no ability or no intention to fulfill. The Republican bigwigs don’t want to ban abortion. This isn’t Falangist Spain or Paraguay or Saudi Arabia. This isn’t Greece, either, and the GOP leaders have no desire to abolish the IRS. When the Republicans last had a man in the Oval Office, he vastly increased the power of the Department of Education and created a huge new prescription drug entitlement program for the elderly. This wasn’t some aberration. The Republicans who hold federal office aren’t nearly as opposed to federal power as they’d like their base of supporters to believe. They also have the ability to jettison their own bullshit when the bullshit hits the fan, which is why they pay our debts and why they gave the banks a huge bailout despite it contradicting their previously declared ideology. What we’re seeing now is a growing realization that nominating another Bush and expecting these promises to be kept is Einstein’s definition of insanity.

The second thing to keep in mind is that the right has been enduring a string of brutal defeats which have only been mitigated somewhat by their successes in the last two midterm elections. The Supreme Court just legalized gay marriage in all 50 states, which wasn’t what the right had in mind when they went to polls in droves in 2004 to pass anti-gay marriage initiatives and referendums. We just normalized relations with Cuba and are talking about making an historic agreement with Iran. The Confederate Flag just lost its last semblance of official respectability. The Affordable Care Act survived its last serious legal challenge and is here to stay.

And they’ve been badly discredited, too. Iraq didn’t go as planned. Gitmo didn’t go as planned. Torturing folks didn’t go as planned. Massive tax cuts and deregulation didn’t go as planned.

So, when you add all of this up, you have a movement that is completely lost at sea with terrible morale.

It’s no wonder, then, that someone like Donald Trump could come along and distract the crowds and the media with his Roman Candle vocal eruptions and attacks on his fellow candidates.  It’s no wonder that sixteen other people who in the normal world of political reality would stand as much a chance of being elected President of the United States as Kim Jong-un of North Korea has of winning the Nobel Peace Prize are running for the office anyway.  Desperate people do truly desperate things and the GOP has been watching the air run out of their tires for about fifteen years now.

So when the GOP floats the possibility of someone like Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, Jim Gilmore, Ted Cruz, or Rand Paul as being a viable candidate, you know how, as BooMan says, they are “truly, finally, totally fucked up.”

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hillary Clinton In South Florida

Via the Washington Post:

Hillary Rodham Clinton will go to Miami, heart of the Cuban American opposition to any warming of the decades-old deep freeze in U.S.-Cuba relations, to call for lifting the stiff U.S. embargo on commercial dealings with the communist nation.

The Democratic front-runner will make her first campaign appearances in vote-rich Florida on Friday, including the Cuba policy speech at Miami’s Florida International University. Her campaign announced the speech Wednesday and said she will expressly call on Congress to lift the embargo on trade, travel and other dealings with Cuba imposed by President John F. Kennedy more than 50 years ago.

Actually, if there’s opposition to lifting the embargo, it’s pretty faint.  A poll done over a year ago — before President Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic relations — showed that most Cuban-Americans, including those here in South Florida, are against the embargo.  So it’s not a very controversial stand to take even in Miami.

As Paul Waldman notes, “It just so happens that there are a couple of Floridians running for president who want to keep the embargo, on the theory that even if it hasn’t worked for 50 years, it’ll do the Castros in any day now.”

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Everybody Dance

Fox News will now let every Republican candidate into the debates next week.

Fox News announced another change to its August 6 Republican presidential candidate forum on Tuesday, removing the requirement that candidates clear at least one percent in an average of national polls to qualify for the second-tier debate.

The change ensures that all 16 of the GOP’s major declared presidential contenders will participate in one of the two primary debates Fox News is hosting next month. The top 10 candidates in an average of national polls will square off in a two-hour debate at 9 p.m. on August 6 (more than 10 candidates could qualify if there is a tie for 10th place.) The six who do not qualify for the debate will now automatically qualify for a separate one-hour event at 5 p.m.

That means it will go something like this: “Candidates, your opening statements, please… blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah… blah blah blah blah blah blah… Good night everyone.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Too Little, Too Late

The New York Timespublic editor admits that running with a story that starts out saying Hillary Clinton is being investigated for “criminal” behavior in regards to her private e-mail account and classified documents and then updating and revising the account numerous times before admitting there’s no real there there is bad journalism.

First, consider the elements. When you add together the lack of accountability that comes with anonymous sources, along with no ability to examine the referral itself, and then mix in the ever-faster pace of competitive reporting for the web, you’ve got a mistake waiting to happen. Or, in this case, several mistakes.

Reporting a less sensational version of the story, with a headline that did not include the word “criminal,” and continuing to develop it the next day would have been a wise play. Better yet: Waiting until the next day to publish anything at all.

Losing the story to another news outlet would have been a far, far better outcome than publishing an unfair story and damaging The Times’s reputation for accuracy.

What’s more, when mistakes inevitably happen, The Times needs to be much more transparent with readers about what is going on. Just revising the story, and figuring out the corrections later, doesn’t cut it.

That’s all well and good, but the lie has already made it halfway around the world.  You can bet that we’re going to see GOP attack ads on Hillary Clinton that include the words “criminal investigation” before the end of the week.

Short Takes

Turkey and the U.S. unite to fight ISIS in Syria.

President Obama was in Ethiopia to talk about South Sudan.

“Ridiculous if it wasn’t sad” was how the President responded to Mike Huckabee’s oven door statement.

Boston bows out of the 2024 Olympics bid.

Europe approves world’s first malaria vaccine.

The Tigers lost 5-2 to the Rays.

Monday, July 27, 2015

When The Party’s Over

I have to admit that it is fun watching the Republicans go through these paroxysms of extremism as they get ready to choose their presidential candidate, but in the back of my mind, I’m wondering what it’s going to be like when they actually choose someone, run them in the general election, and hold out the possibility that they win?  What would this country look like with a President Trump?  Or Walker?  Or even yet again another Bush?

Yes, it would be a huge step back for a lot of policies and programs, and it might scare the crap out of our allies and give comfort to those who harbor ill will because the jingoists have won, and that usually indicates both a lack of depth of understanding of the real world and a lot of hot air about how the world should be.  At home you can tick off the list of things that will be either repealed or reconfigured, including of course Obamacare, regardless of the harm it would do to millions who are now counting on getting affordable health insurance and coverage for pre-existing conditions.  Other social welfare programs such as Medicare and Social Security would be up for sell-off to the highest bidder of late-night TV schemes, and all sorts of attempts to marginalize the LGBT community would bloom again.  Planned Parenthood would be a memory like ACORN and the Interstate Commerce Commission.  And there would be guns for sale from kiosks at the mall so the white guys who flunked the background check would have only a short walk to the cineplex to shoot it up.

If you think that sounds like a nightmare scenario of the worst things that could happen and that the sky is falling, just take a listen to the candidates out there.  These are their talking points.  Not everyone is going to make it through the primaries, and they only have to get down to one and a minion to make it onto the ballot in November 2016, but they’re all expecting to sell these planks to the platform in Cleveland next July.  This is the way the Republicans are going.  David Atkins at Political Animal wrote “[t]he GOP electorate isn’t choosing a potential president: they’re choosing a rebel leader. The Republican base doesn’t intend to go down compromising. They intend to go down fighting.”

So what happens if they do go down fighting, losing yet again another general election to the Democrats for the third time in row?  Will they finally admit defeat, give up their losing battle to take their country back to 1953, and go quietly?

Not on your life.  We all thought that there might be that chance after electing Barack Obama, but that didn’t even make it past Inauguration Day 2009, and if we elect Hillary Clinton as the next president, what we’ve seen in the Obama years will seem like a picnic in the park to the rage that will be fomented — and profited from — when it comes roaring out of the hills and valleys of the red states and the couch at Fox and Friends.

It’s going to be a wild rave for the next year and a half, but when it’s all over, who’s going to stick around to clean up after it?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday Reading

Out-Trumping Trump — Amy Davidson in The New Yorker on the rest of the GOP candidates’ attempts to be heard over the din of Donald.

It’s hard enough to be heard in a crowded room without having to compete with a man who ended the week in Laredo, Texas, so that he could inspect the border, professing, “They say it’s a great danger, but I have to do it.” (He added that, once he is elected, “the Hispanics” are “going to love Trump.”) It’s harder still when you’re trying not to offend his supporters. After Trump insulted Mexicans last month, Bush said that he was personally offended, but others were more cautious. Christie commented that although some of Trump’s remarks may be “inappropriate,” he is “a good guy.” Cruz said, “I think he speaks the truth.” But if Trump weren’t around would the other Republicans behave that much more responsibly?

There is a serious discussion to be had over the Iran deal, yet the G.O.P. contenders seem willing to shatter years of diplomacy in the name of grandstanding. Cruz announced that “the Obama Administration will become the leading financier of terrorism against America in the world,” and Graham thought that the deal looked like “a death sentence for the State of Israel.” Rubio, in a Trump-like move, said that Obama lacked “class.” Bush and Walker got into a fight about whether they’d renounce the deal and start planning military strikes on Inauguration Day or wait until the first Cabinet meeting. Saying it’s Trump who’s wrecking the Republican Party ignores the ways that he embodies it.

Trump is not going to be elected, but he is intent enough on staying in the race to have filed financial-disclosure paperwork with the F.E.C.—a step that many observers thought he would stop short of—and he promptly put out a press release stating his worth at “ten billion dollars.” (Forbes estimates four billion; the biggest discrepancy comes from Trump’s assertion that his name alone is worth three billion.) In this election, the post-Citizens United financing mechanisms have fully matured, effectively removing the limits and the disclosure requirements for individual donations to campaigns. The money may have to be laundered through a super PAC, but that is just a formality. This distorts the process in both parties and might help explain the large assortment of candidates. Cruz may seem like a preening opportunist, unpopular among his colleagues, but, having attracted more than fifty million dollars in contributions, he is a credible candidate. The Times reported that a significant portion of his early money came from a single donor: Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund executive who is so private that one of the few traces of his personal life in the public record is a lawsuit that he brought against a toy company that installed a model train set in his home and, he felt, overcharged him—by two million dollars.

To mount a Presidential campaign these days, you need just two people: a candidate and a wealthy donor. Or, in Trump’s case, just one: he is his own billionaire. And he is the unadorned face of American politics.

Gun-Running — When it comes to loose gun laws, Gov. Bobby Jindal has led the way by making Louisiana the place to be.  And now he’s shocked and saddened when a mass shooting happens in his state. Zoë Carpenter at The Nation reports.

“We love us some guns,” Bobby Jindal once said of his fellow Louisianans. Two of them were killed, and nine others wounded, on Thursday night when a man walked into a movie theater in Lafayette, sat for a while, and then fired more than a dozen rounds from a .40 caliber handgun.

“We never imagined it would happen in Louisiana,” Jindal said afterward, though the state has the second-highest rate of gun deaths in the country, more than twice the national average. Louisiana also has some of the laxest firearm regulations, for which Jindal bears much responsibility. During his eight years as governor he’s signed at least a dozen gun-related bills, most intended to weaken gun-safety regulation or expand access to firearms. One allowed people to take their guns to church; another, into restaurants that serve alcohol. He broadened Louisiana’s Stand Your Ground law, and made it a crime to publish the names of people with concealed carry permits. At the same time Jindal has pushed for cuts to mental health services.

Jindal treats guns not as weapons but political props. On the presidential campaign trail he’s posed repeatedly for photos cradling a firearm in his arms. “My kind of campaign stop,” he tweeted earlier this month from an armory in Iowa. After the Charleston massacre, he called President Obama’s mild comments about gun violence “completely shameful.” The correct response then, according to Jindal, was “hugging these families,” and “praying for these families.”

On Thursday night Jindal hurried from Baton Rouge to the parking lot of the theater in Lafayette and again called for prayer. “Now is not the time,” he said when a reporter asked about gun control. It is the time, he said later, to send the victims “your thoughts, your prayers, your love.” Meanwhile, Jindal’s campaign staff were reportedly contacting people commenting on Twitter about Louisiana’s gun violence problem and telling them to “put politics aside.”

“When it comes to the Second Amendment, no governor in the last four years has done more to protect our freedoms than Bobby Jindal,” an NRA official said of Jindal during his reelection campaign in 2011. Few have done as much on behalf of the NRA, certainly—and as little to protect their constituents.

Listen to the Laughter — What Barack Obama could have learned from watching Jon Stewart.  Sophia A. McClennen in Salon.

Much is being made of President Obama’s candid interview with Jon Stewart on one of the final episodes of his “Daily Show” tenure. It’s the end of an era for Obama too: He appeared as a guest seven times over the years.

While the revelations of the interview are interesting—Stewart continuing to press Obama on what he still has left to do, Obama chuckling that the GOP must love Trump because he “makes them look less crazy” – the last interview brings up one compelling question: What if Obama had actually watched the show more? Would he have learned more about the Republican mind? Would he have had a better grasp on the political challenges facing our nation, and his presidency?

Some will say that the president had better things to do with his time than watch a show on Comedy Central. Stewart, who loves to call himself just a comedian, might be one of them. That might make sense—except for the fact that his was no ordinary comedy show.

Stewart, like his colleague Stephen Colbert, had insight into U.S. politics Obama never seemed to understand.  “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” were one of the main sources of truth telling about U.S. politics and the nature of the Republican Party before and during the Obama presidency. Their hosts were more trusted than most reporters, and their viewers were more knowledgeable about current events than those of cable news.

But most important, audience knowledge came from satire.  Stewart and Colbert not only exposed fallacies, flaws in logic, and misrepresentations spun by politicians and the media, but they also encouraged critical thinking.  They didn’t just report that Fox News lied: They gave viewers a glimpse into the twisted thinking, hubris, disdain for large segments of society, and closed-mindedness that forms the common, core mind-set of Fox viewers.

Long before Obama launched his presidential campaign, Colbert and Stewart were well aware that extremist Republicans who regularly consume Fox News live in an alternate reality world, where facts “come from the gut” and where it makes sense to blame misfortune on the misfortunate.  Most important, Stewart and Colbert were aware that Fox News Republicans are immune to the force of reason. In fact, as interview after interview revealed on both shows, they simply live in a fantasy world.

Now it may seem to be an over-generalization to suggest that Fox News Republicans create their own reality absent both facts and reason, but we have significant evidence that this is indeed a social epidemic. Chris Mooney cites polls, scientific data and other evidence of what he calls the “Fox News effect”—“explaining how this station has brought about a hurricane-like intensification of factual error, misinformation and unsupportable but ideologically charged beliefs on the conservative side of the aisle.”

Stewart knew Fox News viewers were overwhelmingly misinformed.  Back in 2011 he spoke with Fox News host Chris Wallace on media bias. Stewart commented: “The most consistently misinformed? Fox, Fox viewers, consistently, every poll.” The problem with misinformed viewers is that they can’t be reasoned with because they already hold false beliefs.  As research by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler explains, there is a vast difference between an uninformed public and a misinformed one. An uninformed public is ignorant and can be educated; a misinformed one is delusional—and that’s far more dangerous.

Doonesbury — The gift horse.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Third Way Out

Donald Trump is threatening to bail on the GOP and run as a third-party candidate.  Which party?  His own, of course.

Donald Trump says the chances that he will launch a third-party White House run will “absolutely” increase if the Republican National Committee is unfair to him during the 2016 primary season.

“The RNC has not been supportive. They were always supportive when I was a contributor. I was their fair-haired boy,” the business mogul told The Hill in a 40-minute interview from his Manhattan office at Trump Tower on Wednesday. “The RNC has been, I think, very foolish.”

Pressed on whether he would run as a third-party candidate if he fails to clinch the GOP nomination, Trump said that “so many people want me to, if I don’t win.”

“I’ll have to see how I’m being treated by the Republicans,” Trump said. “Absolutely, if they’re not fair, that would be a factor.”

He jumped into the race as a Republican, insulted every other candidate already running — and some not yet in the mix — by reeling off a list of how they’re “idiots” and “unprepared” and “terrible,” and then threatens to take his ball and go home if they don’t treat him with respect?  Talk about an easy lay-up; given Mr. Trump’s ego and propensity for doing stunts, it’s only a question of when.

Just A Phase

Jeb Bush, a presumably serious candidate for the presidency and former governor of a state with a large elderly population, wants to “phase out” Medicare.

“I think we need to be vigilant about this and persuade people that our, when your volunteers go door to door, and they talk to people, people understand this. They know, and I think a lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits,” Bush said. “But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something – because they’re not going to have anything.”

The article notes that his brother George W. Bush wanted to “phase out” Social Security, which obviously didn’t happen and was an idea that was greeted with all the enthusiasm of a shingles outbreak.

Perhaps we should just phase out the Bushes.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Rick Santorum’s Farewell

You can tell that Rick Santorum’s second run for the presidency is winding down; he is so desperate for air time that he went on The Rachel Maddow Show last night.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Rachel Maddow; she’s a smart interviewer and treats her guests with respect.  But if Rick Santorum, who basically wrote the book on flaming homophobia, will go on TV and sit across the desk from an openly gay woman, then you know he’s really grasping for attention.

The interview went well; polite and generally friendly, but Mr. Santorum lost his way when he revealed that he slept through Grade 10 Civics, not to mention his law school classes on the Constitution, when he stated that Congress can write a law to ban marriage equality over the rulings of the Supreme Court.  Sure they can; they can also order extra pepperoni on Pizza Wednesday.  But the Constitution is very clear — and confirmed in numerous cases, not the least of which is Marbury vs. Madison — that the Supreme Court decides which laws are valid and which are not and that’s final.  He said the way to get around that was to wait until we had a president who could appoint the “right” justices to the Court to overturn a ruling, which is the judicial equivalent to the frustrated baseball fan’s cry of “Wait ’til next year!”

Mr. Santorum also said he’s unsure of whether or not being gay is a choice, but he cited anecdotal evidence that “some” people have “turned away from the gay lifestyle,” although he neither named names nor told us what exactly the “gay lifestyle” is.  (To be fair, I’ve been openly gay for forty years and I don’t know what it is either.)  But even without being able to say that being gay is an immutable fact, he still wants to relegate the LGBT community to second-class status.  That doesn’t make him a serious thinker on the matter.  In the words of Charlie Pierce, it makes him a colossal dick.

Still, it was nice to see Mr. Santorum on the show and not carrying on like second-rate evangelist in a roadshow tour of Elmer Gantry.  And this was probably the last time he’ll be on national television without being surrounded by the other candidates who have picked up his schtick — Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz, and Scott Walker — and are running with it, leaving him as the guy who lost the primary race to Mitt Romney in 2012.  There’s always someone in the race who seems slightly pathetic — like Gary Bauer — but has to give it one last shot.  It was nice of Rachel Maddow to give him a chance to exit gracefully, even though he won’t take it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Report From the Playground

After pushing him off the monkeybars, Donald Trump broadcast Lindsey Graham’s cell phone number to the world.

John Kasich is running for president using a logo that Kellogg’s passed over for their new brand of bacon-flavored cereal.

Kasich Logo 07-22-15

Mitch McConnell thinks that the Republicans will win because it’s easy to beat a girl in a campaign.  Neener, neener.

Short Takes

Three Spanish reporters missing in Syria.

Iran’s parliament put off voting on the nuclear deal for 80 days.

Sweet Sixteen: Ohio Gov. John Kasich joins the GOP field.

Part of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s sentence for corruption is vacated.

Check your mailbox: Citibank is going to pay credit card holders $700 million for ripping them off.

R.I.P. Theodore Bikel, 91, actor, singer, humanitarian; E.L. Doctorow, 84, author of Ragtime and Billy Bathgate.

The Tigers lost to the Mariners 11-9.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

No Such Thing As Bad Publicity

Via TPM:

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll found that Trump topped the crowded Republican field with 24 percent support among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.

Keep it up.

Will Jeb! Apologize To John Kerry?

It was expected that most (but not all) of the Republicans would come down hard on Donald Trump’s comments about John McCain, and of course Jeb Bush was right in there:

Jeb Bush on Trump 07-20-15

How noble of him to defend veterans against slanderous attacks.  That’s now, though.  Ten years ago he was decidedly in favor of it.

It turns out that in 2005, Jeb thought one veteran in particular should be attacked. He even thanked other veterans for swiftboating John Kerry, whom Republican conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, who has never served his country, decided to accuse of cowardice in order to keep him out of the White House…


So Jeb, who at least (unlike Trump – or his brother) had not escaped service by deferment but who graduated late enough that he was simply never called up, feels it is wrong to attack a Republican veteran, John McCain, but perfectly permissible to attack a Democratic veteran, John Kerry.


Short Takes

As noted below, Cuba and the U.S. re-opened their embassies in Washington and Havana.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to support the Iran nuclear agreement; votes to lift sanctions.

The military plans to increase security at recruiting centers following the shooting in Chattanooga last week.

Greek banks re-opened on Monday for the first time in three weeks.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a restrictive abortion bill.

The Tigers beat the Mariners 5-4.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Pick A Side, Jeb!

Via ThinkProgress:

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) no longer believes that it should be legal to discriminate against LGBT people in employment and housing — but he still does not back federal legislation to remedy the problem.

Bush was asked by a gay employee at a San Francisco tech startup he visited on Thursday about his position on legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Time reported. Bush responded by denouncing discrimination in general, but also diminishing the need for legal protections and saying they should be only enacted at the state level.

“The fact that there wasn’t a law doesn’t necessarily mean you would have been discriminated against,” Bush told the worker. Studies have shown that between 15 percent and 43 percent of gay people have experienced some form of discrimination and harassment in the workplace and 90 percent of transgender workers reported experiencing some form of workplace harassment or mistreatment.

Bush then invoked the “religious liberty” argument made by anti-LGBT organizations, suggesting that while a florist should have to sell flowers to everyone, they should not be obligated to do so for a same-sex wedding.

Invoking the “states’ rights” argument is his way of weaseling out of the discussion.  Oh, sure, he’s against discrimination, but let’s let the states decide for themselves.  If we went that route on civil rights, schools would still be segregated as would lunch counters and bathrooms.  Using the fallacious “religious liberty” point is just the new version of the old “if God had meant for the races to mingle, he’d have made us all one color” line.

I’d just as soon Mr. Bush come out and join his fellow Republicans such as Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and Mike Huckabee and unalterably stand for homophobia enshrined into law such as a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality and denying equal protection by statute for the LGBT community.  He was certainly in favor of it when he was the governor of Florida, so if he’s going to stand on his record back then, he can do it now.

He’s All Yours

I do hope the Democrats heed the advice of whomever it was who said, “When your opponent is determined to damage themselves, shut up and watch.”

What I’d be interested in seeing is how the Republicans are going to blame this on President Obama, the same way John Boehner blames the president for the drought in California.

Donald Trump isn’t going to go away unless he decides to quit on his own.  So until he does, the Republicans will have to deal with him not just because he says outrageous things about other Republicans, but because at least for now he has cornered some of the base of the party.  If his polling keeps up, he’s going to be in the first few debates, which means he will be the target of the other candidates, which suits him just fine: that reinforces his stature as the outsider and the victim.

So let’s just hope that the DNC, the Clinton campaign, and the rest of the people who have invested heavily in popcorn futures just sit back and watch.

Short Takes

U.S. and Cuba set to re-open embassies today.

Keep it up, Trump; you’re doing great.

Hobby drones hinder California wilidfire-fighting efforts.

Former President George H.W. Bush leaves hospital.

The Tigers‘ annual mid-season slump continues after losing two of three to the Orioles.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Reading

Obama and History — Josh Marshall on what a legacy means to President Obama.

We all remember that week last month when the country seemed to be marching with history. The Court upheld the Affordable Care Act against what is likely its last serious legal challenge, effectively embedding it deeply into the structure of American social policy. The Court then (in what was unfortunately a weakly argued majority decision) made marriage equality the law of the land nationwide. Then on the heels of these events came the President’s speech (transcript here) in Charleston, South Carolina – actually a eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, one of the victims of the Emmanuel Church massacre on June 17 but in fact a commemoration and meditation on the meaning of the whole event. (James Fallows’ is one of the best appreciations and treatments of it.)


When I look at Obama I don’t see a President desperately trying to cram legacy achievements into the declining months of his presidency. I see achievements coming to fruition that were usually years in the making but often seemed errant or quixotic and uncertain in their outcome. This is what for many was so bracing about the end of June. This has been a long long seven years. What seemed like an uncertain list of achievements, long on promise but hacked apart by mid-term election reverses and Obama’s sometimes over-desire for accommodation, suddenly appeared closer to profound, like a novel or a play which seems scattered or unresolved until all the pieces fall into place, clearly planned all along, at the end.

Whatever you think of this Iran agreement, it is not only the product of years of work but is core to the foreign policy vision Obama brought with him to the presidency. It’s as core to the goals he entered the presidency with as anything that has happened in recent weeks. He has it in view; his political opponents will be very hard pressed to block him. And he is pushing ahead to get it done.

None of this is to say that there isn’t a clear and palpable change in the President’s affect and demeanor. His presidency is coming to an end and his range of action will diminish further as the presidential election moves to center stage next year. As the budget deficit has receded from public view, Obama’s fucks deficit has come to the forefront. After six and a half years in office, he may have a small stockpile of fucks left. But he has none left to give. He is increasingly indifferent to the complaints and anger of his political foes and focused on what he can do on his own or with reliable political supporters. You can see it too in the more frequent lean-in-on-the-lectern moments during press conferences and speeches. He’s truly out of fucks to give. But it’s more a product of focus on finishing aspects of his presidency in motion for years than of cramming at the end. For most of his supporters, this was the Obama they always wanted. And he’s giving it to them. What comes off to reporters as testiness is more like the indifference of someone who’s got work to do and is intent on doing it.

Scout’s Honor — Dale Russakoff in The New Yorker reconnects with the woman who played Scout in the film of To Kill a Mockingbird looks back at her role on and off the screen.

After playing Scout in the movie of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in 1962, Mary Badham endured a rude homecoming when she returned to Birmingham, Alabama. Having just spent six months in California with her mother, living in a racially integrated apartment complex, she found herself suddenly an outsider back home. “The attitude was ‘Lord knows what she might’ve learned out there!’ ” Badham recalled the other day. “Some families, I’d been welcome in their homes, and after the film, I was no longer welcome.”

Like the adult Scout in Harper Lee’s newly published “Go Set a Watchman,” Badham left the South during the era of segregation, and returned to find that people she once considered unequivocally good in fact bore the markings of that evil system. In the case of Scout, as revealed with alarm by reviewers of “Watchman,” it’s her sainted father, Atticus, who emerges as an overt racist, inveighing against threats to segregation from the U.S. Supreme Court and local lawyers for the N.A.A.C.P. Badham similarly discovered a mean streak in family friends who didn’t tolerate her breaking of Southern white taboos. “I was ostracized and it was painful,” said the adult Badham.

This past Tuesday night, nine hundred people, a sellout crowd, came to hear Badham read from “Go Set a Watchman” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the 92nd Street Y. Harper Lee herself made New York City—specifically the Upper East Side neighborhood around the Y—her second home for more than fifty years. These were her fans, and they clearly had come looking for something to celebrate. When Badham was introduced, they whooped and cheered.

Badham, who was nine when she played the iconic six-year-old and is now sixty-two, was completely overcome. Today a furniture-restorer in rural Virginia, she clasped her hands, raised them in celebration, then took a bow, and finally laughed until she almost cried. She read a brief excerpt from “Mockingbird,” and the first chapter of “Watchman.” Her voice is slow and lilting, quintessentially Southern. Alternately funny and poignant, Badham’s channelling of Jean Louise Finch—in “Watchman,” she has mostly shed her famous nickname—elicited frequent laughter.

In the Q. & A. that followed, moderator Mary Murphy, the director of the documentary “Harper Lee: From Mockingbird to Watchman,” asked Badham if she was surprised by the evolution of Atticus. She was not. In the Alabama she knew, it was not unheard of for a white man like him to righteously defend a black man like Tom Robinson against an unjustified charge of rape, and at the same time believe, as Atticus says in “Watchman,” that black people were “backward,” not “ready” to exercise their full civil rights. She heard all that and much more growing up in Birmingham. We all did.

Could Florida Democrats Blow It Again? — David A. Graham in The Atlantic on the fight brewing for the Senate seat.

The road to a Democratic majority in the Senate is a narrow one, and it runs through Florida. Marco Rubio is running for president, so he can’t run for reelection, freeing up his seat—and in a swing state like Florida, with the more Democratic-friendly electorate of a presidential cycle, there’s a good chance Democrats can win.

If they have the right candidate, of course.

That’s where Alan Grayson comes in. Democrats have had a rough run in Florida recently. In 2010, their candidate was walloped in a three-way Senate race that Rubio won—Governor Charlie Crist ran as an independent after losing the Republican primary; Democrat Kendrick Meek finished a distant third. That same year, Alex Sink lost a close race for governor to Rick Scott. In early 2014, Sink lost a special election for the seat of deceased Representative C. W. “Bill” Young. In fall 2014, Crist—by now a Democrat—lost the governor’s race to Scott, even though the incumbent was strongly disliked.

The remedy, state and national Democrats believe, is Patrick Murphy, a young two-term representative who reached office after defeating Representative Allen West—as fiery and controversial a Republican as Grayson is a Democrat—in 2012. Murphy is a notably moderate Democrat (he was previously a Republican), but he’s a polished candidate who showed he could win in a closely divided district. Party leaders marked him for great things. Early polls show him leading the top Republican candidates.

Then Grayson announced his decision to run. He’s the famously (or infamously) loudmouthed U.S. representative from Orlando—the guy who, during the healthcare-reform debate said the Republican health plan was “Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.” Grayson has a long history of similarly inflammatory or hotheaded comments, which he says is evidence that he’s willing to fight for his principles. The wealthy liberal is serving his third term, but it’s nonconsecutive—elected in 2008, he was defeated in 2010 and then returned to Congress in the 2012 election.

How big a threat to Murphy is Grayson? That’s a tough call. There’s not a great deal of good polling in the race. Several earlier polls showed a close race. A poll in early July from Gravis Marketing showed Grayson leading Murphy by an astonishing 63-19 margin. It’s probably best not to put too much stock in that result—it’s early, it’s an outlier, and Gravis’s track record is, um, not sterling.

But Grayson has one big advantage: He’s willing to say anything. In particular, he’ll deliver inflammatory quotes left and right about anything and anyone, allowing him to effectively tap into the Democratic id. Or in his own, typically modest words, “Voters will crawl naked over hot coals to vote for me. And that’s something that no other candidate in either party can say.” That also means he has strong fundraising potential from the grassroots, though he’s also independently wealthy. His act might play well in a Democratic primary, but could he win a general election in a purple state? The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee seems unconvinced. The DSCC praised Murphy in a statement when Grayson officially entered the race last week, but didn’t even mention Grayson’s name.

Doonesbury — Hotter than ever.